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The Importance of a Quarter Inch Seam in Quilting

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Small Squared Patchwork Quilt

In the quilting world, a quarter inch seam is something you will hear about a lot. In this article, we will discuss why this much talked about measurement is so important for your patchwork quilt:

Why is the Quarter Inch Seam So Important?

When you are making a quilt, you will need to cut out an assortment of shapes and sizes of fabric which will be joined to make up your final piece. If you don’t have consistency with you seams, when you sew them together, they will not line up the way you’d planned.

This is even more important when you’re sewing together triangles and other shapes that are not simple, equally sized squares. 

How Do I Achieve the Perfect Quarter Inch Seam?

Firstly, when you’re cutting the fabric into the various shapes, you should always allow for a quarter inch seam on each side. 

Secondly, when it comes to sewing them together, using the correct foot on your sewing machine is vital. 

Quarter Inch Feet for Your Sewing Machine

To obtain 100% accuracy, you will need a quarter inch foot. There are different types of these special feet available including those that come with a built in guide and those that don’t have this feature. Some are metal and some are clear plastic. You can also buy a separate quilting guide which can help you get the required seam allowance.

Quarter Inch Foot with Built in Guide

This is the ideal foot for perfect ¼ inch seams. This foot has a guide that protrudes vertically from the right side of the foot to ensure your fabric is aligned correctly as you sew.

Quarter Inch Foot without the Guide

If your ¼ inch foot doesn’t have the guide, you can still get the perfectly measured seam. 

From the center needle position to the right side of the foot, or sometimes to the outer right side of the toe will be your ¼ inch measurement. 

All you need to do is line the edge of your fabric up against the edge of the foot (or toe if applicable) and you will have a perfect seam.

Using a Quilting Guide with the ¼ Inch Foot

If you prefer to have a guide rather than simply following the side of the foot, you can buy a separate quilting guide which you can slide through the hole in the shank of your foot and set to the desired seam width. Just lower the guide on to the fabric and begin sewing. 

When quilting, you will often be sewing many vertical lines that need to be evenly spaced. The quilting guide is incredibly useful to ensure all lines are even and parallel to one another.

Using the Throat Plate as a Quarter Inch Seam Guide

Some sewing machines will have the quarter inch marked on the throat plate. This is the metal plate that sits underneath the needle and covers the bobbin. This is an alternative method of ensuring your hems are the right width.

If you don’t have this, you can measure the quarter inch from the right of the needle center position and very carefully stick some tape to use as a guide. Just make sure that it is positioned in exactly the right spot.

What Are the Other Markings on the ¼ Inch Foot?

On many of these special feet, you will see horizontal markings.

When you are sewing together squares and need to pivot one quarter inch at each corner, this allows you to know exactly when you get to that point. You can then stop in the needle down position, turn your work and continue sewing along the next edge.

What is a Scant Quarter Inch Seam?

You may have heard of a scant quarter inch seam. When you sew your pieces together, your quarter inch may increase by a thread’s width.  If you are piecing many small fabric squares together, this thread’s width adds up and can be enough to disrupt your pattern and create problems with the measurements at a later stage. 

Different quilters deal with this issue in different ways but one of the easiest solutions to this problem is to simply move your needle one space to the right. This means the seam is an extremely tiny bit smaller than the quarter inch - the aim is that it’s a thread’s width to compensate for your stitching. 

A little tip to help keep your seams as accurate as possible is to use a good quality fine thread. This will help reduce the extra width being added as you sew.

Should I Buy Metal or Plastic Feet?

When it comes to choosing whether to buy a metal or plastic foot for this purpose, it really is a matter of personal choice. Metal feet will last longer but a clear plastic foot allows for better visibility. This is particularly useful if you are stitching in the ditch. 

Summary

So, you will see that when making a quilt, particularly an intricate patchwork quilt, the perfect ¼ inch seam is essential to achieving the best finished product. You can use a quarter inch foot with or without a guide but because precision is key, one that has that extra function will help you a lot, particularly if you are a beginner.

To ensure complete accuracy in your piecing find out about how to best use a rotary cutter and which ones to buy for what purpose.

You may also like to find out about when to use a walking foot.